I was able to get some time today on 3 very good skis. I call this my "everyday" ski grouping, as something high 80's to mid 90's seems just about perfect for skiing everyday. Not too wide that you can't ski most groomers and firm snow, not too wide that you can't get the ski to come around, and not too narrow that you can't get solid float in most conditions. Many of us consider this the sweet spot of ski design: I can probably count on 2 hands the number of days in the past 3 years I wanted more width, and on 2 hands the number of days where I needed a narrower ice skate (ironically, the test day was one of those days). FWIW, that is around 100 days or so. Figure a ski like this will cover 80% of your Western days in a normal snow year.
Skier Info: 5 foot 9, 158lbs. Athletic, skis 20-45 days a year. On groomers, trying to push into a high-C, dynamic style of skiing, mostly cross under technique, working on good countering movements and getting down the fall line, getting early edge angles.
Kastle MX88 178cm: reviewed and well loved previously: 2 sheets of titanal, wood core, rubber damping layer, super high end construction. Full camber tip to tail, no early rise. Basically, if you morphed a race room ski into an all mountain ski, you get the MX88. Flat tail.
Stockli Stormrider 88 177cm: new ski for 2015, running surface is 5.5cm shorter than the MX88. Tall early rise tip, and a tapered tip as well. Much softer, both torsionally and along the length of the ski. Has metal, not sure how much, but nowhere near as stiff as the MX88. Flat tail.
Fischer Motive 95 180cm: somewhat similar construction to the MX88, but with an early rise tip (no tip taper). 2 sheets of metal, camber underfoot, flat tail.
Comparison ski: Blizzard Power 800s, 174cm. 16m ski with a 72mm waist, basically a frontside carver. The best ski of the day, conditions were perfect for a carver. Wish I was testing carvers once it decided to rain and freeze!
Conditions; tough for anything but a full on frontside ski. It rained 2 inches on Saturday, froze solid, picked up 1/2 inch of snow last night to somewhat stick to the groomers. They were hard though. This was a day made for the Power 800s. Unfortunately, I wasn't testing the 800s, just skiing it for perspective. Let me say this: anyone who says you don't need an ice skate ski in your quiver either doesn't ski conditions like this, doesn't know what they are talking about, likes sliding around and calling it something else, or is a heck of a lot better skier than me. I was getting these skis to grip, most of the time. If I threw myself down the fall line and got serious edge angle early. Otherwise, it was a struggle. But good for testing the limits of each ski. I took 3 runs each: mostly bulletproof groomers with a bit of sticky snow here and there, and about 20 bump turns that were manageable.
Overall thoughts: each ski had a distinct character. The MX88 undoubtedly held the crown for best carver, most energy, most edge grip. Motive was up there, tying it for tops in stability, predictability, and a powerful, muscular feel. The Stormrider 88 was different; lighter, agile, less locked into a turn radius, more willing to drift, more forgiving, but lacking the grip and top end of the other 2 skis. The first 2 felt like they put groomer performance at a premium with all-mountain capability also important: the SR88 is first and foremost either a mid-speed, mid radius carver, or an off-piste, bump and tree ski.
Kastle MX88 178cm: mounted with Tyrolia Attack 13 demo binding. Overall, a real powerhouse. This ski didn't disappoint, and it was the top of the 3 everyday rides tested here on groomers at speed, only being bested by the 800s carver for grip and energy. The MX88 takes a bit more energy to ski, but it also the most rewarding ski here. Release down the fall line; set up the ski flat early, let it drift even, then get that tipping and edge angle motion early and watch the ski come alive. Very predictable in a hard snow drift transition, sets up well for the next turn, and super predictable when on edge. This is the feel of luxury: smooth, supple, huge top end stability, but not a brute to ski. The tip engages predictably, never nervous feeling. With decent edge angles, the ski holds well for what it is, and it is moderately quick, coming through the turn in a much tighter radius than the printed 20m. Definite GS feel to it, but easy to ski, will do anything you ask of it. It really shined for what it was, considering the conditions. I simply didn't expect any 88mm ski to hold this well. But you have to commit in these conditions: if you aren't aggressive at the top of the turn, you can't get the ski carving, and it will skid without good CA movements and edge angles. Not an auto-turner either; it does what you want it to do, without a mind of it's own. In terms of snow feel, I would say it is a little heavier, smoother, and more snappy in the tail than the SR88, a little more damp and softer to bend than the Motive. It skis like it has more heft but less weight than the Motive, and more heft and much more weight than the SR88, in term of how it tracks through rough snow at speed. In bumps, manageable, not the best, a bit stiff, not the best at drifting and checking between bumps. Overall though, it would be my choice in these conditions.
Pluses: best groomer ski tested here, wicked edge grip and stability, easy to ski for what it is
Minuses: a bit more work than some others, not the easiest to navigate really challenging off-piste skiing
Stockli Stormrider 88 177cm: much different than the MX88, thinner layup, almost no camber, long early rise tip, tapered tip. Softest ski in the test by far. Torsionally quite soft as well. But the design flat-out works. The mount point (recommended) was identical to the MX88's, even though it has 5.5cm less running length due to tip rise. That means you have the same tail but 5.5cm less tip to work with. Good and bad as a result. Boy, is this ski quick edge to edge. Part of that is the lack of heft, but a bigger factor is simply the short running length; so easy to get the tip pressured and bending. A rapid-fire carver that felt like a 15m ski easily (printed is 19m). You can crank out slalom turns on this thing. Edge grip, while not quite as good as the MX88, is excellent; you would only notice the lack of relative edge grip if you had come off an MX88 or a narrower carver. It is going to work most of the time, for most people, in most conditions. I felt I could trust the SR88. Having a bit different tip, it wasn't as happy in low angle fast turns; it liked to be on edge, medium radius, when skied aggressively and with energy. The ski liked to be bent and carving, doing something, not static. In really high angle arcs, the tapered tip did feel funky: I was carving on the sidecut, but not hitting the taper in the tip until I got really big edge angles and perhaps some soft snow: suddenly it would engage and pull me inward, kind of suddenly. I didn't like this feeling. Not a fan of tapered tips for high angle groomer skiing. And it didn't have the top end of the MX88. With that said, I think the SR88 is a better choice for many people. It drifts exceptionally well. It would be the perfect ski for skiing hardpack off-piste steeps, where you are navigating big firm bumps, and don't want a ski that is overly edgy. You can drift it, check speed, engage the tip predictably. The tip taper is great at this; it really is more of an off-piste design. Combined with the softer tip flex, the SR88's design is perhaps as good as you may find for an off-piste ski in this width. The sweet spot is simply huge; and the ski is so light, it is just flickable in bumps. The other 2 skis were good in the short bump section, but no doubt the SR88 was the standout. The early rise tip and softer flex really shines in tough snow. With regards to on-snow feel: the SR88 was every bit as smooth as the MX88, perhaps more elegant with a lighter touch; not a ski to be bludgeoned into submission. Not too much energy in the ski, quick but didn't give a lot back. It is really focused on a true all-mountain design, bias slightly toward off-piste skiing, rather than a wider groomer ski.
Pluses: so easy to ski, light on it's feet, quick, fun carver at sane speeds, incredible in challenging conditions
Minuses: can be overpowered at high speeds in big turns; tapered tip can be funky in high angle groomer skiing
Fischer Motive 95 180cm: also mounted with Tyrolia Attack 13 demo bindings. I had these mounted .5cm behind the center line, to account for the shorter running length and get it close to the mount point of the MX88; I wanted a similar amount of tail compared to the MX88 and SR88. The Motive had outstanding edge grip. It wasn't quite as quick and initially quick edge to edge, due to the width increase most likely, but once on edge, it was absolutely rock solid. It had a bit more lively feel than the MX88, similar stability, kind of reminded me of a Mantra, but with a bit more manageable flex for lighter guys. Same overall feel though. Very powerful, fairly stiffish flex at the tip. It really rolls up onto edge well: I like the combo of tip rocker and normal round, not tapered, tip. Speed limit is equal of the MX88. It is a real power carver in these conditions: too wide to be optimal for the ice I was skiing, but in softer typical Western hero groomers, a great choice. Quite a bit of camber underfoot; it loads well, lots of energy upon release. This ski really was comfortable getting flat between turns; I could trust the ski if I really rolled down the fall line in the transition, knowing the ski would hold me up in that weightless moment. It was easily rolled up onto edge in that transition. It felt like a quicker ski than the radius indicated when I was on it: it would arc to arc well, carrying energy from turn to turn. Got in the few bumps I could find: not the best, a little stiff in the tip; I really had to focus on pulling my feet back, extending into the trough, skiing cleanly. Softer bumps would have been no problem. In comparison to the SR88, I felt the Motive had power and heft, as well as pure edgehold, that the SR88 lacked. The SR88 being lighter, more of a touch ski, not as locked in on edge. If I were skiing tight trees, I would be SR88 all the way, or 174cm Motive. For more open skiing on a bigger mountain, Motive. It should be noted that the running length on the SR88 equivalent to the Motive would be in 174cm, not 180cm. I was on a bigger ski. The 174cm is much more nimble in tight spaces. Having skied that, I didn't care for it as much as a Bachelor ski, but as a ski for a smaller hill, it would be outstanding. I sized up due to living near wide-open skiing. The Motive was certainly impressive: arguably the best ski tested; has all the performance any skier could want; the right flex pattern for such a strong ski, above average on-snow feel, and affordability.
Pluses: a real powerhouse that doesn't make the skier work too hard; incredible stability, grip, predictable nature
Minuses: a lot of ski in the longer lengths for tight spaces, not a cruiser. Likes to be driven from the cuff of the boot.